Cartoon Creator's Grisly Murder

Curious George director Alan Shalleck's curiosity killed him.

Ditto grabbed the paddle and clobbered Shalleck in the forehead. A pissed-off Shalleck began choking him, Ditto says, and the two fell to the floor while they struggled. Ditto says when he hollered for help, Puglisi came with a kitchen knife and began stabbing Shalleck. As the assault dragged on, Ditto says, he decided it was time for a mercy kill; he plunged a knife in a circular pattern all around Shalleck's genitals, aiming for the kidneys. Shalleck was stabbed in more than 40 places, including the anus.

In his statement to police, Puglisi said he never struck Shalleck. Rather he witnessed Ditto bludgeoning Shalleck repeatedly over the head with the paddle; then he held the victim down while Ditto fetched a steak knife. He watched Ditto take up blade after blade, each of which either broke or bent under the pressure of the thrusts. And as he punctured the old man, Ditto repeatedly said, "The son of a bitch won't die." All the while, Shalleck begged for his life.

Robert Gershman, Ditto's attorney, says he thinks the men were equally culpable — and that life in prison was the best deal Ditto could hope for in a death penalty case. "This is probably one of the most gory and gruesome scenes anyone will ever see," Gershman says, remembering the crime scene photos. "The bathroom was covered in blood from floor to ceiling, and there was a handprint smeared down the length of the wall. It was like something out of a horror show."

In South Florida, Alan Shalleck turned himself into a children's book reader called "Gramps." By the end of storytime, kids would often pile onto his lap.
Liu Xin/Palm Beach Post/ZUMA Press
In South Florida, Alan Shalleck turned himself into a children's book reader called "Gramps." By the end of storytime, kids would often pile onto his lap.
Rex Ditto
Palm Beach County Sherriff/ZUMA Press
Rex Ditto

Ditto and Puglisi dragged Shalleck's body out to their car. They planned to transport it to the Everglades and leave it for the gators. But they got spooked when a security guard drove by and took off. Then they dumped bloody knives and paddles in the New River in Fort Lauderdale and burned some of Shalleck's belongings in their back yard in Oakland Park. Their haul was meager: $80 in spare change wrapped in paper, some jewelry, and a check they forged to themselves for $450. Shalleck's checkbook showed only $500 in his checking account at the time of his death.

Five days after Shalleck's murder, Curious George made his big-screen debut in a long-awaited Universal film produced by Ron Howard. One of the scenes, when the monkey climbs onto a dinosaur skeleton in a museum, was borrowed from a story line developed under Shalleck's direction.

In the months leading up to his death, friends say, Shalleck was trying to find a lawyer to help him fight for a payout from Houghton Mifflin and Universal, but to no avail. The movie earned $14.7 million on its opening weekend at the box office. Shalleck and his heirs wouldn't be seeing a piece of that action.

Alan Shalleck's sons arranged for their father's burial in Westchester County, New York. The wooden casket was interred February 14, 2006. There was two feet of snow on the ground that day, David Shalleck says. The funeral wasn't well attended.

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